Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


HOOKER, John Lee

(b 22 August 1916, Clarksdale MS; d 21 June 2001) Blues singer and guitarist; with Lightnin' Hopkins and his cousin Earl Hooker one of the most influential and successful of traditional bluesmen still around in the 1960s, with a laid-back, laconic vocal style and unique time that conveys humour as well as the blues. His passport said he was born in 1916, but he later said he was born in 1920 and that he had lied about his age earlier in order to get in uniform, then the way to attract girls. He first played electric guitar '48, returned to acoustic early '60s. Among many songs: 'I Don't Want To Go To Vietnam', 'Boogie With The Hook', 'House Rent Boogie', 'It Serves Me Right To Suffer', 'Boogie Chillen' (W. C. Handy Hall of Fame Award), 'One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer' (hit for Amos Milburn). Won French Academie du Jazz Record Prix '68, many other polls and awards; appeared at many festivals, blues tours, TV films and shows included Dick Cavett talk show '69; influenced Johnny Winter, John Mayall, Buddy Guy, Canned Heat (with whom he made LP Hooker'N Heat '71, his first to chart in Billboard).

For a decade '49-59 he made singles on Modern, King, Savoy, Chess, Crown, Specialty, DeLuxe etc as John Lee Hooker, the Boogie Man, John L. Booker, Texas Slim, Delta John, Birmingham Sam and His Magic Guitar, Johnny Lee, Johnny Williams etc, but finally most people who were listening knew who he was. Albums began on Riverside '59-60 (tracks later on Fantasy), nearly 50 CDs including reissues and compilations available in the mid-1990s were hard to sort out, but on every one of them the Hook is unique: he sounds as if he makes up the words as he goes along, very nearly true, and his guitar playing too is basic, unconventional and unpredictable but always fits. A six-CD set on Charly UK collected The Vee-Jay Years 1955-64; albums in and out of print included a dozen single CDs on Charly; Alone, Graveyard Blues and Goin' Down Highway 51 on Specialty; Black Snake, That's My Story and Boogie Chillun on Fantasy; Sittin' Here Thinkin' and Sad And Lonesome on Muse; three-CD set Alternative Boogie on Capitol ('48-52 tracks); Plays And Sings The Blues ('51-2 tracks), House Of The Blues ('51-4) and The Real Folk Blues '66 on Chess; That's Where It's At on Stax, Endless Blues and Urban Blues on MCA, many more on Rhino, One Way, Ace, Flair etc. Jealous '86 on Pausa (reissued on a Pointblank CD) was his first album in years and a representative one, with just organ, guitar, bass and drums; then he was reborn as one of the best-loved bluesmen of all time as the good and the great gathered around his feet: The Healer '89 on Silvertone, Chameleon, then Mobile Fidelity's super-duper 'Ultradisc' CD had guests Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray and more. He appeared in the Dennis Hopper film The Hot Spot '90 with Miles Davis. Mr Lucky '91 on Charisma had Cray, Ry Cooder, Keith Richards etc; Chill Out '95 on Pointblank had Santana, Van Morrison and Charles Brown. Don't Look Back '97 on Virgin/Pointblank had Los Lobos on the first (best) track, 'Dimples', a remake of one of his old tunes; the rest was self-indulgent, with Morrison on four tracks and producing.